The unexpected lessons of a pointless protest
How annoying that women, and the men who purport to support them, would choose Twitter silence as an expression of defiance.
Cutting off their voice to spite their noses.
And I say that as a Twitter infidel. A phenomenon that has polluted the environment, given vile expression to anonymous trolls, shorthanded communication to the point of cacophonous Babel, been exploited by Russian hackers to influence an election outcome, and has even replaced the minimal courtesy of a condolence note. Oh yeah, Vegas, see how much I feel your pain, by tapping out a sympathy blurt in 140 characters or less, bobbing along on the currents of vacuous dissemination.
I had to go back to into the files to remind myself who invented this digital plague: Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey, back in the aught days when the platform was called twttr. Buried in the company biography, an amusing detail about the once and again CEO — Dorsey was once briefly suspended from his own Twitter account, which the embarrassed company blamed on an “internal mistake.”
There was no mistake, except in re-think retrospect, when Twitter last week knocked actress Rose McGowan off her tweet perch, locked out, sent to Twitter Coventry for fierce condemnation of disgraced movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, the alleged serial sexual predator and, as McGowan more than implied in one of her dispatches, her rapist.
At first Twitter would not explain why McGowan was temporarily muzzled.
Only in the face of online howling did the company explain that McGowan had violated its terms of service because a specific message had included a personal phone number.
Some 6,000 tweets flying out into the social media cybersphere per second — around 200 billion tweets every year — and somehow McGowan’s rule-breaker had snagged a monitor’s attention.
Her account was hastily restored. But not before #WomenBoycottTwitter had gone viral, 24-hour notweet zone — it began last Thursday at midnight — exhorting users to go all mute. That call to mum the ramparts apparently resonated with the masses as celebrities tweeted — well of course they would tweet — their boycott alignment. Alyssa Milano, a TV actress of minor repute, said Friday the 13th “will be the first day in over 10 years that I won’t tweet. Join me.”
A decade of daily tweeting? Am I the only one who considers that addictive behaviour? The protest had its protesters, resisters who pointed out that Twitter has long been fraught with toxic abuse by The Tweet Chamber, with scant crackdown and no draining of the vulgarian swamp by the company. Some noted, correctly, that there was no similar outrage mounted via boycott when minority women such as Ghostbusters actress Leslie Jones were brutally trashed on the platform.
But what was the point, really, of #Women Boycott Twitter? For a protest to have traction, there has to be an objective, an aspiring. This was just a bloated whinge that inconvenienced nobody except the alliance of social media remonstrators and only fleetingly. Not exactly cutting off your tongue, like the Ellen Jamesians in The World According to Garp.
Fiction, I know. But the silencing of rape victims is very real. Just as it apparently took decades to out the powerful Weinstein, with celebrities now falling all over themselves — on Twitter, natch — to claim, gosh, they never knew, when clearly many did.
Twitter — or Non-Twittering — was the vehicle adopted to push back. I don’t think anybody has been able to gauge the boycott’s impact. It seems not to have damaged the brand.
But Twitter is damaging us. Not just as a conduit for malicious electoral engineering but, in my profession most especially, as a slapdash replacement for reportage.
Eleven years after it launched, we still don’t know what we’re doing with Twitter and the multiple pulpits it spawned. The haranguer-inchief — no Winston Churchill — is a crude, rabble-rousing American president who’s perfected the art of mass disinformation. But tout le monde is in thrall to his early morning squawks, a Wakey-Wakey America pile of bilge.
Everybody has an opinion, everybody has something to say. But now legions are listening, even to the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who have migrated from the fringe — or the Dark Web — to the social media hub.
I don’t think journalists should join them there.
We talk — by which I mean tweet — too much, in the process shedding all the core principles of neutrality and objectivity, as if the online persona can be separated from the professional.
Columnists are paid to have opinions, of course — that’s the job — though apparently much of the public doesn’t grasp the difference. And it can be confusing. Columnists sometimes function as reporters — it’s a multi-tasking scramble — but reporters should never be columnists.
I’ve never understood, for example, why newspapers that are fairly vigilant about keeping partisan opinions and editorializing out of their core news content — although often, not so subtly, refracting the news through an ideological prism — are perfectly happy permitting reporters to freewheel spout on social media platforms.
It’s a kind of didactic schizophrenia, with reporters pretty much given carte blanche to snark and barb (and self-promote) on their Twitter feeds.
The practice has gone berserk. Because it drives eyeballs. And there’s a legitimate corporate interest in engaging readers in a fractured media market. And it doesn’t cost anything.
The New York Times, held up as a paragon of journalistic virtue, had taken disapproving notice.
On Friday, the paper — with newsroom social media accounts boasting “tens of million of followers” — told staff to keep their opinions off Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
Revisiting and updating corporate guidelines, the Times stated what should be blindingly obvious — partisan content jeopardizes credibility. Certainly it’s made it all too easy for Donald Trump to vilify big media (apart from lapdogs such as Fox and conservative blowhards on the radio dial) as fonts of fakery and spider’s nests of newsroom guerrillas.
Bottom line from the NYT: Knock it off.
Social media can, and has, expanded news platforms (I do so hate that word), particularly by providing real-time updates via tweets and websites constantly turning over content. We’re not held hostage any longer by press-roll deadlines. There’s never before been so much information rolling out as it happens.
“We can effectively pull back the curtain and invite readers to witness, and potentially contribute to, our reporting,” the Times states. “But social media presents potential risks for the Times. If our journalists are perceived as biased or if they engage in editorializing on social media, that can undercut the credibility of the entire newsroom.” You think? Key points: “In social media posts, our journalists must not express partisan opinions, promote political views, endorse candidates, make offensive comments or do anything else that undercuts the Times’s journalistic reputation.”
“Our journalists should be especially mindful of appearing to take sides on issues that the Times is seeking to cover objectively.”
Maybe we can, after all, take a cue from #WomenBoycottTwitter.
Shaddup! Rosie DiManno usually appears Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
Twitter briefly locked out actress Rose McGowan for her fierce criticism of Harvey Weinstein, sparking a #WomenBoycottTwitter protest.